Alex Iwobi’s late reply stuns Manchester United as Fulham conquer Old Trafford

<span><a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Alex Iwobi;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Alex Iwobi</a> runs off to celebrate his late winner behind a deflated Harry Maguire.</span><span>Photograph: Michael Regan/Getty Images</span>

On this showing the “perch” Sir Jim Ratcliffe wishes Manchester United to knock Manchester City off is atop a kilometre-high skyscraper and the new 27.7% owner’s side is peering up from ground level as, from 88 minutes here, chaos ensued. It was bookended by Alex Iwobi’s 97th-minute winner after the Harry Maguire equaliser that had cancelled out Calvin Bassey’s opener.

Iwobi’s strike came from the latest Fulham break to punch through Erik ten Hag’s side. Adama Traoré, on as a substitute, skipped infield from the right and tapped to Iwobi. With no United defenders anywhere near, he teased André Onana with a dawdle, then beat the goalkeeper to his right to send Fulham into raptures.

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This sealed a first victory at Old Trafford for the Cottagers since 2003 and left United a yawning eight points behind Aston Villa in the fourth Champions League berth. As Ten Hag auditions to keep his job before Ratcliffe and the right-hand man who was at Old Trafford, Sir Dave Brailsford, qualifying for the continent’s blue riband competition would help. The manager was asked if the deficit can be clawed back.

“I said from January we are in many finals, we won many, now we have lost one,” Ten Hag said. This was United’s 10th Premier League defeat of the season. Under Sir Alex Ferguson, the Dutchman’s pre-eminent predecessor, this never happened: one more mark of how far they have fallen in the 11 years since his retirement.

Of the display Ten Hag said: “We could win and should win. The team showed great character. We had slow starts in both halves. It was a big loss to lose Casemiro [just after half-time], we lost some stability and conceded a goal that was very avoidable and then fought back and showed great character.”

This was Calvin Bassey’s opener, which derived, initially, from one of the countless counterattacks United conceded. Harrison Reed thumped a diagonal attempt that Onana tipped over for a corner, Andreas Pereira floated this in from the right and the ball fell to Bassey. As those in red slumbered the centre-back struck, the ball rebounded to him off Timothy Castagne, and he rifled it into the roof of the net.

Before this and until the end, the contest was a basketball-esque affair featuring end-to-end attacks that signified a lack of control from either team. Maguire’s finish registered his first goal in the competition this season and came as United appeared beaten. Bruno Fernandes dipped a shoulder along the left and unloaded a shot, Bernd Leno parried the ball and there was the former captain to score to his and all those of a United persuasion’s delight.

Next, nine minutes of added time were signalled and Ten Hag’s team initially kept coming. Scott McTominay blazed wide from the right and Leno repelled a 25-yard Fernandes bullet away for a corner. From this Amad Diallo went close but, then, moments later, United’s paper-thin structure was exposed as Fulham broke to claim the spoils via Iwobi’s cool-headed winner.

Once again Ten Hag’s plans had been shredded by injury – to his top-scorer, Rasmus Højlund, and another A-lister, Luke Shaw. But, as he stated, this can be no excuse as being able to function when drafting in replacements is part of operating as a high-functioning team.

“With the squad we had today we should have won this game,” said Ten Hag. “Both halves were slow starts and we should be ready from the first whistle. That’s a point of criticism but the team showed big character in both halves.”

Casemiro went down following a clash of heads with Reed. On came McTominay as Omari Forson was withdrawn – for Christian Eriksen – the 19-year-old’s full debut ending after a disappointing 52 minutes. Eriksen’s opening offering was a clumsy pass straight to Iwobi: an apt shorthand for United this afternoon who were an uncoordinated bunch whose forays floundered too often.

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During the week Ratcliffe made his perch assertion, including Liverpool, too, in this. Ten Hag zoomed out when assessing the direction of the side under him. “After one defeat you have to see the bigger picture and the bigger picture looks very good,” the manager said. “You see there are many good players coming up and real high-potential players, they will be getting better so definitely we are going in the right direction,” he said.”

It sounds like a plea to Ratcliffe for clemency. As Marco Silva said of his Fulham: “The better side won.”